Penn Highlands DuBois

Shown is the main entrance of Penn Highlands DuBois West. In accordance to CDC guidelines, masks continue to be required in healthcare settings regardless of vaccination status.

DuBOIS — Healthcare workers and community members are planning to line the sidewalks in front of Penn Highlands DuBois as part of a “Medical Freedom of Choice Rally” on Friday.

The protest, a “stand against forced mandates and a stand for freedom,” is set for 2-4 p.m. Friday on public sidewalks of 100 Hospital Ave.

Those who attend are encouraged to bring signs, banners or just themselves, the Facebook page says. The protest is open to anyone who supports freedom of choice.

According to an email distributed Nov. 11 to employees on vaccine updates and exemption procedures, Penn Highlands Healthcare is “complying with the mandate issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” which is requiring that healthcare workers have the COVID-19 vaccine.

“According to the federal mandate, all employees – union and non-union system wide, must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, and the first dose of a two-dose regimen must be administered by Dec. 5, 2021,” the email says.

The CMS mandate also states that weekly COVID-19 testing is not an option for healthcare workers, according to the PHH Communications release online.

“Employees not fully vaccinated by Jan. 3, 2022 will be placed on non-paid administrative leave for 45 days. After 45 days, they will be terminated,” the website notes.

Wendy Whelpley and Mandy Fremer, certified medical assistants with PHH, are two of the organizers.

“We are slowly losing our freedoms, especially our medical freedom,” said Whelpley.

The women noted that healthcare employees have been working diligently all throughout the pandemic, and now, they could be at risk of losing their jobs if they choose to not get the vaccine.

“We should be able to decide what we put in our bodies... not the government or anyone else,” Whelpley said.

The women said there are people they know of who are vaccinated against COVID-19 who are still contracting COVID and passing it around, and yet, they still get to keep their jobs.

The situation is being viewed by some, like the protesters, as “unconstitutional.”

“They are really putting all of us in a terrible situation of losing our jobs that we love, or giving up the last bit of freedom we have,” said Whelpley.

Ultimately, the women say, no one should have to choose between their career and the vaccine.

“In the end, it will be patients who suffer from this mandate,” Whelpley added, noting that the hospital is already struggling from a shortage of workers.

“But, we need to stand up for what we believe is right.”

The Courier Express contacted Penn Highlands Healthcare officials for comment; those questions — including ongoing court challenges to the federal mandate — are expected to be addressed at a PHH COVID-19 media teleconference scheduled for Thursday.

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